Every off-season there seems to be a recurring issue or two that baffle me. This year, the discussion on J.J. Hardy being a non-tender candidate is one of them. And so, just like recurring rumors about Jarrod Washburn or ongoing fear mongering about a post-apocalyptic post-Joe Mauer Minnesota, it gets a little tiring.
Kelly Thesier is right, of course. It's not like she's coming out and making an outrageous claim. We've been hearing Hardy's name in non-tender speculation since before the season ended, in large part because he seems to check a few negative boxes:
- J.J. Hardy spent a lot of time on the disabled list,
- Partially because of this, his offensive production wasn't all that great, and
- He'll be making multiple millions of dollars for a team whose salary situation is up in the air.
Looking at it in a vacuum you'd have to say, sure, he's a candidate. But anytime you make a decision in life, much less baseball, it doesn't do you much good to make a decision if you don't understand the circumstances and the alternatives.
We're already aware of Hardy's defensive reputation. Back on October 15th, TwinsCentric/Over the Baggy's Parker Hageman pointed out that J.J. is "one of the rangiest shortstops in the game today". It's not much of a surprise that Parker's correct, as he uses some advanced metrics to show exactly how "rangiest" (it's a word!) Hardy has been over the last three seasons in spite of logging fewer innigs than any other player on the list.
But that's not enough for me. It's not enough for me to pound it into the ground that J.J. Hardy is worth tendering a contract to. Allow me to pound the stake in further. Among all players in baseball who logged at least 700 innings at shortstop (27 players), here is where Hardy ranks among each of the following statistics:
UZR/150 = UZR runs above average per 150 games
RngR = Range runs above average
RZR = Revised zone rating (outs converted per balls hit into a player's zone)
When we're talking about defense, you can throw any discussion about Hardy's footspeed right out the window. No matter which defensive metric you look at, Hardy is one of the best defenders at a premium position. He just is, and it doesn't matter if it's because of a great first step, great defensive positioning, quick reactions or pixie dust, the man gets the job done. There is nobody better available on the free agent market. There is nobody better available in the system. Hell, there is barely anyone better around the league.
What makes tendering Hardy a contract even more of a compelling choice is that some very interesting offensive metrics tell a good story as well. Among the 14 AL shortstops who logged at least 350 plate appearances, Hardy's:
- isolated power (.126) was fourth,
- OPS (.714) was third,
- wOBA (.313) was fifth, and
- his walk (7.5%) and strikeout (15.9%) rates were right in the middle of the pack.
Put it all together and what we have is a guy who, in spite of missing 55 games due to injury (most of them due to recurring problems with his left wrist), was still one of the best offensive shortstops in the American League. Add to that elite defense at a premium position from a guy who just turned 28 in August, and what do you get? You get a fantastic role player.
Is there a risk in paying millions to J.J. Hardy? Of course there is. But anytime you hand out multi-million dollar contracts to a player you're dealing with a level of risk, and if you're going to take that risk you should be doing it for players who are very good at what they do. What I've tried to show here is just that: J.J. Hardy does his job very, very well.
Of course there's merit to the thought that Hardy could be non-tendered. Even for a club whose payroll went through the roof last season and whose payroll will go up this season, it all comes down to an allocation of resources. If the Twins feel that paying Hardy $6.5 million or so is more than the worth of what they'll get in return, then yeah, they'll probably non-tender him.
But if the money is there, non-tendering Hardy would be a mistake. The name of the game is to put the most competetive ballclub on the field as possible, and when you're looking at the shortstop position it just doesn't get a whole lot better than the man we already have.